Some things are harder to learn than others. I literally had to get hit by a car and
subsequently lose my dog for a few days (spoiler: he came back!) to learn what it
means to be a citizen. It was a very valuable lesson paid for handsomely in actual
blood, sweat and lots and lots of tears.
We all know what that's like, right? That hopeless sinking feeling where you just know
things are not going to be ok. That's how I felt when my dog was missing. We were
underdogs and needed rescuing. Luckily, several of my neighbors banded together in the blazing summer heat to help me find my best friend, taught me that a citizen looks out for the underdogs.
Enter Grace Hamlin, resident underdog rescuer.
Hamlin, 42, grew up in an orphanage in Costa Rica and has been a friend to both
child and animal for as long as she can remember. Her and her merry band of "W-
Underdogs" led what felt like the most monumental search effort in the history of
southeast Atlanta. It was overwhelmingly awesome.
“We fight for a humane Atlanta and for safer communities for all...”
-Grace Hamlin, W-Underdogs
For those 'wondering', W-Underdogs is an innovative grassroots nonprofit that pairs
underserved and at-risk youth in the Peoplestown and South Atlanta neighborhoods with animals in need. The program empowers these children to gain leadership, life skills, responsibility and compassion as they use teamwork to learn how to train and care for animals. Through advocacy efforts and direct action, they are empowered to make positive changes at school, home, and in their communities.
Hamlin teaches kids all the necessary skills for caring for animals while also teaching the kids to how to care for and respect each other. The W-underdogs care for stray dogs and cats that have been surrendered to her or found on the streets; “they help save each other.”
The youngest and newest kids do chores like cleaning up after the dogs and walking them. As their skills improve, so do their chores. The kids are able to take their newfound skills ‘on the road’ and, under Hamlin’s supervision, secure odd jobs in the neighborhood. “No job is too big or small,” says Hamlin.
The money they earn as a W-underdog goes into a fund to help pay for animal care and supplies. The older kids are able to put their money towards an account set up by w-underdogs for their college education.
And how does one become a W-underdog? They have to want it. “These kids have to earn the privilege of joining the program,” she says. Each child must write an essay on what it means to be a ‘w-underdog.’
But it’s not all work and no play, at the end of the day, they’re still kids. Hamlin rewards their hard work with educational and fun field trips, last month they took a trip to the Georgia Aquarium.
Hamlin hopes that this program encourages these kids to look beyond their circumstances and explore their own interests so that they go on to college. “These kids are underdogs and they work hard to turn themselves into ‘w-underdogs,’” she says.
“We fight for a humane Atlanta and for safer communities for all,” says Hamlin.
That's Hamlin's definition of 'citizen' -- someone who works to deal a better hand to those that need it. But not all citizens have to be founders of nonprofits. Or out in the streets where everyone can see them. A lot of my neighbors became social media sleuths.
Posting and cross posting about missing dogs, making sure no lead went cold.
Whatever it means to you, be a citizen. Act. Don't hold back because one day you might
be the the underdog in need of help.